ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ichiro Suzuki looked like the prime-of-his-career, future-Hall-of-Fame version of himself when the New York Yankees needed him most on Tuesday, not the 39-year-old struggling to keep his batting average above .200.
The veteran right fielder's two-out, two-run single in the ninth inning against Fernando Rodney lifted the Yankees to a 4-3 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field as the New York evened the three-game series.
Ichiro (2-for-4, two RBIs) was central in the Yankees' final three runs. His single with the bases loaded came one pitch after first baseman James Loney's lunging catch of a Chris Stewart pop up appeared to bail out Rodney, who had walked two in relief of starter David Price.
Ichiro had begun the Yankees response to a go-ahead Rays rally with a one-out single in the eighth, tearing to third on a single to left by Jayson Nix. He scored on a Brett Gardner groundout to tie the game, 2-2.
"I haven't been able to do much, but hopefully things like this will get me past it and be able to have a good year," Ichiro said through an interpreter.
Mariano Rivera allowed a leadoff homer to Evan Longoria in the ninth but recorded his sixth save. New York improved to 11-8 as the Rays missed a chance to reach .500 and fell to 9-11 as a four-game win streak ended.
Price started the ninth but allowed a leadoff single to Robinson Cano. The Rays were forced to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Travis Hafner with one out in the ninth after Rodney allowed Cano to steal his first base of the season. A walk to Lyle Overbay loaded the bases before Ichiro mashed a 99-mile-per-hour fastball up the middle.
The former leadoff hitter, awash in criticism about his allegedly diminishing skills, was right where manager Joe Girardi needed him in the eighth spot on Tuesday. Girardi, no stranger to criticism and pressure as a player and manager in New York, seemed especially pleased by the veteran's contributions.
"As we know being around here, when you're older, everyone is going to question who are. If you're heavy, they question that," he said. "You're best being in your prime and thin when you're struggling."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Price would have remained in the game had he retired Cano.
"The big play there was the walk to Overbay," he said. "The walk to Overbay is a big play and then Suzuki puts the ball in front of (center fielder) Desmond (Jennings). There's not a lot you can do about that."
Jose Molina's RBI single had given the Rays a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning. Matt Joyce led off with a walk and moved to second on Loney's single to center. He scored when Molina sprayed a 2-1 fastball to right field. The rally was thwarted, however, when Loney was thrown out 9-3-5 at third base as he slid into third baseman Nix's foot instead of the base.
Tampa Bay jumped ahead in the first inning for the second time in the series as Ben Zobrist's sacrifice flyout to center scored Jennings, who had walked and advanced to third on Ryan Roberts' double off Brandon Hughes.
New York tied the game in the fourth inning in a rally begun when Eduardo Nunez reached first striking out on a wild pitch from Price. He took third on a hit-and-run single by Cano and scored on Vernon Wells' single to right field.
Price said he wasn't concerned about a lack of run support. The Rays average 2.8 runs over his starts.
"It's not on my mind," he said. "These guys are trying just as hard as I am and Phil Hughes pitched a great game over there."
Hughes allowed two runs on six hits with six strikeouts in seven innings.
Price (0-2) was charged with three earned runs on eight hits in eight innings plus one batter. He struck out five. Rodney, the struggling Rays closer, allowed a run on two walks and a hit, with two strikeouts.
Cano and Nix went 2-for-4 for the Yankees. Loney (2-for-4) was the only Ray with multiple hits.
NOTES: Rays LHP David Price is the only winless member of the Rays rotation. He is only the second Cy Young Award winner to have his team lose his first five starts of the next season. He has surrendered a lead six times in his last three starts. ... Yankees 1B Kevin Youkilis did not start on Tuesday against the Rays, a day after being pulled from the lineup after his back stiffened following batting practice. He has not played since removing himself from a game at Toronto on Saturday. ... The Yankees were 0-8 when trailing after seven innings. The Rays were 9-0 when leading after seven. ... Rays 3B Evan Longoria extended to 34 games his streak of reaching safely. ... Rays OF Ben Zobrist became the club's all-time leader in sacrifice flies (36).